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Brandon Veale column: Packers, Vikings one away from something

The price was wrong again for the Packers and Vikings in 2021.

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) reacts on the field Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in the second half against the San Francisco 49ers during a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports
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Those of you who are familiar with that pillar of daytime television, "The Price is Right," might be familiar with their game "One Away."

In that game, the contestant must guess the price of a car after being handed five digits that are all off by one. The contestant makes their moves and then asks the unseen sound effects crew, "Ladies, do I have one number right?" If so, an unseen car horn honks and the contestant makes their final adjustment and if they get all five, they win the car.

Brandon Veale.jpg
Brandon Veale

Well, in the NFC North, the Packers and Vikings got the buzzer and the "loser horn" for 2021. Again.

I take some pride in noting back in August that I thought the Vikings were an average team who would be brought down by a tougher-than-average second-half schedule and finish 7-10. They ended up 8-9.

As for the Packers, I expected a strong regular season followed by another disaster in the NFC Championship. Turns out I was off by one there, too. They had their disaster in the NFC Divisional round against San Francisco on Saturday night.

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The only parting gifts either team got was uncertainty. The Vikings fired their head coach and general manager, positions that remain vacant at the time of this writing. The Packers, and their fans, now get to enjoy weeks if not months of Aaron Rodgers offseason stories. If we're lucky, he'll stick to vacillating about whether he'll come back to Green Bay rather than provide amateur media criticism or half-baked medical advice "they" don't want you to know about.

The Vikings' to-do list rivals my own these days: hire a new front office, hire a new head coach and staff, figure out what to do with Kirk Cousins and a dire salary cap situation, figure out what to do with the 12th overall draft pick; and all this is before anyone in purple picks up a football again.

Though the early candidates for these positions sound encouraging simply because they're not children of other NFL coaches, less than a third of first-year NFL head coaches in the last 14 years have made the playoffs, and that's not accounting for the holes on Minnesota's offensive line and throughout the defense.

Meanwhile, Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur stated Tuesday "there's no plan for a rebuild" and that he and the rest of the Packers' brass want Aaron Rodgers back for a 15th season as the team's starting quarterback.

You might think most Packers fans would find that a comforting statement, but I don't.

The parallels between Rodgers' performance in the loss to San Francisco and the 2008 NFC Championship Game (Brett Favre's last in Green Bay) were striking: high-flying Packers team loses a frigid night game at home on a game-ending field goal after a listless offensive performance.

Favre had a middling season in New York ahead of him, followed by one great one in Minnesota and one where the wheels came off at the end.

If the Packers want to start over, now would be a great time. The 2022 NFC North will feature a Vikings team with a new coach, GM and possible overhauls at quarterback and throughout the defense. The Bears, if they don't have one of their once-in-every-five-years fluke seasons, will have a new coach, GM and a second-year quarterback, and the Detroit Lions have won 17 games in four years. Nine wins might take this division, and though it remains to be seen if Jordan Love can get those, they also have guaranteed games against the Giants and Jets to look forward to.

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The Vikings have that to look forward to as well if they can surround Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson with enough talent to be a little above average. If Rodgers does go (and probably Davante Adams with him), the hated Packers will be as bad they've been in more than a decade.

In another galaxy, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen dueled in the AFC Divisional game like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker at the end of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, dodging lava and each other's lightsabers. The difference between the Packers and the Chiefs-Bills game was comparable to the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars. I don't know where Rodgers fits into this analogy, other than the Packers special teams appears to have been coached by Jar-Jar Binks.

The Vikings realized they were on a road to mediocrity and changed drivers. Green Bay may be on the same track, and it's not going to where Mahomes, Allen and company are headed in the years to come.

After the NFL's "Showcase Showdown" in Los Angeles in three weeks, it may be time for the NFC North to be taken over by the young and the restless.

Brandon Veale is the sports editor of the News Tribune. He can be reached at bveale@duluthnews.com.

Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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